Monday, February 16, 2009


"The kanga struts in style..." Wear it with a smile!

Kanga/Leso is a traditional rectangualr cloth from East Africa. The Kanga/leso usually have a wide border (pindo), central motif (mji), and writing (ujumbe or jina). Kangas are usually printed in bold designs and bright colours.

Kanga illustration. (1) = pindo, (2) = mji, (3) = jina

Kangas originated on the coast of East Africa in the mid 19th century. The Kangas/Lesos were inspired by the Portuguese traders handkerchiefs "lenço". There are conflicting stories as to how the Kanga came about. One source notes that a group of ladies in Zanzibar got the idea of buying printed kerchiefs in lengths of six, from the bolt of cotton cloth from which "lenço" were usually cut off and sold singly. They then cut the six into two lengths of three, and sewed these together along one side to make 3-by-2 sheet; or bought different kinds of kerchiefs and sewed them back together to form very individualistic designs.
Another source states that the The Indian traders in Mombasa and Zanzibar used to cut up rolls of scarves in the size of a Kanga and it seems that they got the idea of having designs made in this size.

This new design gained popularity and soon printed kanga/leso pieces were being sold as single unit fabrics with different designs. The original designs allegedly had dark backgrounds and white spots sprinkled across it. As a result the "lenço" was referred to as the Kanga after the the guinea fowl which has an elegant spotty plumage.
Kangas originially were designed and printed in the far east countries such as India. Today you can find Kangas printed in African countries such as Kenya & Tanzania.
Swahili sayings on the kangas/leso is attributed to a local famous trader in Mombasa, Kaderdina Hajee Essak aka Abdulla. His many kanga designs, formerly distinguished by the mark "K.H.E. - Mali ya Abdulla", often included a proverb. At first, the sayings, aphorisms or slogans were printed in Arabic script, later in Roman letters.other purposes such as wall hanging
Kangas can be worn in different styles. Amongst the coastal communities in East Africa women tend to dorn the Kanga by wearing two matching pieces aka 'Doti' . One is piece is used to wrap the head and the upper torso whereas the other piece is wraped around the waist to cover the lower torso. The kanga/leso cloth is also used by designers and dressmakers to create modern garments like dresses, shirts, trouser etc. Kanga/leso is also used for other purposes such as wall hanging, table clothes, bed spreads and other functional as well as decorative purposes.

Kanga/leso has aso been used as platform to send messages, and even mobilize communities be it political or for other social purposes.

According to Mahfoudha Alley Hamid kanga`s versatility, colours and inscribed messages have a special meaning in Swahili culture in that the wearer can communicate to a lover or husband or even foe that she is ready to marry, divorce, go to bed or call it quits just by the mere changing of colours of the wear.
...there is a tradition of sending a sanduku (suitcase) to the bride to be, containing the bride`s attire, household items and even gold ornaments. The success of the sanduku , she says, depends on the number of pairs of kangas it contains. ``Kanga, a simple piece of cotton cloth is so strong and powerful and mythical, that mesmerises the womenfolk. It represents art, beauty, culture and customs of coastal women which have now spread to many part of Africa and the world,`` she says.
Himid further says that it is considered a source of embarrassment to the husband if he does not buy his wife a pair of kanga every now and then. ``I would not have minded if my husband had not bought me a chicken to revamp my lost energy after a difficult child birth``, says Khadija Mohammed a recently delivered young woman, \"but I would have minded a lot if he would not have bought me a pair of kanga as a gift.`` On concluding Ramadhan and in preparing for Eid el Fitr, many houses do not remain all calm as long as men have not bought a pair of the wear for their wives. Many wives take it as a presentation for duty of preparing iftar and daku (fast breaking and night meals) throughout the month. In the more cultured societies, kanga colours have a special meaning. Some women would wear kangas bearing red and black colours during menstruation, writes Himid further. ``This made the husband aware that you were in the red and cannot give him any favours,`` she quotes Mtumwa, a Zanzibari woman in her 1980s as saying. Thus without words, the wife would inform her husband of her state.

White kangas were adorned during the full moon to symbolise the whiteness of the woman\'s heart towards her husband. Other bright coloured kangas were worn to match colourful waist beads of the woman to add to her attraction. The messages on the kangas play a great role in the value of the wearer. The value is not only financial, but also emotional. A message in the kanga can make or break a friendship. ``The first thing I did when I received a gift of kanga from my husband was to read the message.`` says Khadija. ``I was really amused to see that the message read `Titi la mama li tamu,` meaning the mother\'s milk is the best, this made me realize that Hamisi wanted me to breastfeed our baby.``

During weddings, women from both the bride and groom`s families choose a design as an informal uniform to be worn during the celebrations, to solidify the unity of the two families.
A bride would wear a special design kanga with small crosses and rosettes called Kisutu as a symbol of her entering adulthood,... The Kisutu kanga bears four colours, white, black, blue and blood red. According to Himid these colours are not without significance, the red colour bears witness to her virginity, the black is the pain of being deflowered and the white is the colour of the male seed which she is going to see for the first time.

In divorce, a pair of kanga is given to her by her in-laws so that she can be washed in them to mark the end of their marital relationship ... a divorced woman leaves behind a pair for her ex-husband, which is an omen for another marriage. ...They [Kanga's] are used as shawls during religious or traditional ceremonies.Source:
The 101 wonders of `khanga` and many more to come

Photos by

Kanga's/leso's have also graced some famous faces in the global community.

George Bush face printed on Kanga during his visit to Tanzania in 2008

Barack Obama face printed on Kangas following his historic win during the 2008 USA presidential elections


Saturday, February 14, 2009


Welcome to Niamey Niger's capital city

Niamey city, capital of Niger and Tillabéry dept., SW Niger, a port on the Niger River. Niamey is Niger's largest city and its administrative and economic center. The city sits on the bank of the famous Niger river. Niger river is the third longest river in Africa.

Much of its importance stems from its location on the Niger River at the crossroads of the country's two main highways. The city is the trade center for an agricultural region that specializes in growing peanuts. Manufactures include bricks, food products, beverages, ceramic goods, cement, and shoes. Niamey was a small town when the French colonized the area in the late 19th cent., but it grew after it became the capital of Niger in 1926.
Originally an agricultural village of Maouri, Zerma, and Fulani peoples, it became the capital of Niger colony in 1926 and grew rapidly after World War II. At the intersection of trade routes, it has residents from other parts of Niger, as well as Yoruba and Hausa traders, merchants, officials, and craftsmen from Nigeria, Benin, and Togo.

War Memorial, 1914-1918 and 1939-1945

Palais de Justice, Niamey

Sahel Com un souffle de liberté

Banque Centrale des Etats de l'Afrique de l'Ouest aka Central Bank of West African States Tower
Photos by Brian McMorrow


Niger used to be occupied by the Songhai Empire in the west, Hausa kingdoms in central parts and the empire of Kanem-Bornu around Lake Chad to the east. These kingdoms traded in slaves, gold, and salt. Although their fortunes diminished during the French colonial years, trans-Saharan trade still continues, to some extent. Under French control, Niamey became the capital of colonial Niger in 1926.

Niamey grew rapidly after World War II - has most of the amenities of a modern capital city, but at the same time maintains a distinct Sahel character. It has an international airport and has road links with Benin and Nigeria.

Most people in the city work in the service sector. Important buildings and institutions in the city includes the University of Niamey, National School of Administration, national museum, research institutes for geology, human sciences, oral tradition, tropical forestry and agriculture, veterinary studies.Source:

A teenage girl fills up water pots in Kan-Karen-Kacha, central Niger

Rush hour, central Niamey

Traditional guards gather in the village of Kournaka, southern Niger


Niamey offers a wide array of adventure for those visiting the city in the Sahel. Cruise the Niger river on a traditional river boat aka Pirogues and enjoy the cool and fresh breeze.


Some places to visit in Niamey include the Niger National Museum, zoo, craft center, Grand Marche, which is a famous market area in the place. There are traditional artifacts, fantastic jewelry, carvings, furniture, fabrics, local music.

There are different modes of transportation available in Niamey such as buses, taxis, camel, boats, and bicycles. Niger is reported to have one of lowest literacy rates in the world. Hence the goods stores and shops have pictures showing paintings of types services or goods provided.

And when you are hungry, Niamey has an array of restaurants and eateries that serve both local and international cuisines. One of the popular recipes of Niger is grilled meat, which is famous for the spices it is marinated with. The baking of the meat on the coal oven along with the spices are just too much to resist. The salads made in the country of Niger look colorful and taste exquisite. A preparation made with seasonal veggies and various sauces, the salads along with the other food items gifts one a sumptuous banquet to the tourists to Niger.Source:

Hobo Traveller website has interesting pictures of food in Niger. Below are some of my favourite.


Baguette sales man

Beef Brochettes

Beef and goat jerky


Musée Nationale(Niger National Museum) and Zoo

Sarcosuchus imperator - 100 million year old giant crocodile, Niger National Museum

Photos by Brian McMorrow


Photos by Brian McMorrow


Photos by Brian McMorrow

Petit Marché
Photos by Brian McMorrow


Grande Mosquée Niamey Niger

Niamey's Grand Mosque was financed by Libya (CFA 500 million)
Photos by Brian McMorrow


Peralta giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis peralta) are ... ENDANGERED and the population of Peralta giraffes in Niger are the last giraffes in West Africa. They live in an unprotected area of southwest Niger in direct contact with the people and their cattle. The destiny of the last giraffes of West Africa is thus closely dependent on that of the human populations.100 years ago thousands of giraffes lived throughout Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Mali, Niger and Nigeria.

In 1996 there were just 50 left all gathered in the south west of Niger. Why? The causes of such a massive drop in numbers are numerous: poaching, increasing human demography, destruction of the vegetation, excessive cultures, desertification –(turning into a desert). The giraffes concentrate on the plates of Kouré during the rain season and, during the dry season, in the area of Harikanassou

Photos by Brian McMorrow


Streets of Niamey

Things To Do: Experience the Niger River